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Agri-Tech innovation at the heart of sustainable food production

As agriculture faces its greatest ever demands, data-driven technology is crucial to sustainable and profitable food production

The changing global economic environment is going to mean that farmers must change their approach to how they manage their business. By the year 2050, the world population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion, two thirds of the global population will live in urban areas. To meet increasing demand, the annual world agricultural production would need to increase by 60%. Technology has an important, if not vital, role to play in the transformation of the UK’s farming industry.

Together with the UK government and as one of UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres of Agricultural Innovation, Agri-EPI Centre works on facilitating the creation of profitable and sustainable agri-tech businesses.

In the next couple of months, as part of the ‘Agri-Tech Enabler’ campaign together with our wide partnership network, Agri-EPI  Centre will demonstrate the practical and commercial benefits of farm technology innovation, applied across all major commodities. We invite technology companies to bring forward new ideas that have the potential to directly, or indirectly, impact UK Farming and result in sustainable food production. Be sure to look out for #agritechenabler related news on social media in the weeks to come!

As the leading agri-tech enabler, Agri-EPI Centre supports all kinds of businesses to help maximise their innovative ideas. Unlocking the potential of agritech innovation, if you would like to discuss opportunities for your business, big or small, or have something to contribute, please contact team@agri-epicentre.com. We will be delighted to talk to you.

 

Agri-EPI Centre DairyTech webinars July 2020

DairyTech webinars

One of the sectors currently being challenged, where innovative technologies are key to improve efficiency, sustainability and resilience is dairy farming. We would like to invite you to a series of webinars where we highlight the use of novel technologies and management systems designed to improve dairy herd health, wellbeing and sustainably increase milk yields. Read more about the different webinars held in July and how to register:

The webinars give an insight into a range of projects rolled out on our various UK dairy facilities, which are operated in conjunction with our partners Kingshay, SRUC and Harper Adams University and our Satellite Farm Network.

UK-China SmartFarm partnership takes next steps

Utilising UK technology in China

Agri-EPI Centre and one of China’s largest food companies, the Tianjin Food Group, have today signed a collaboration agreement to develop a smart farming project utilising UK technology in China to boost early disease detection and productivity monitoring in pigs.

The project, called “SmartFarm 1.5”, will involve Agri-EPI and UK companies RoboScientific, Greengage Lighting and Innovent Technology, working with pork producers for the Tianjin Food Group in north eastern China. It is being funded by Innovate UK from the UK and supported locally by the Tianjin Food Group.

The new project is a continuation of the SmartFarm concept developed in China by Agri-EPI Centre, which seeks to develop international collaboration to support efficient and sustainable approaches to farming and food production.

The first SmartFarm project looked at precision-based approaches to nitrogen application in wheat production. It ran successfully between 2018 and 19, co-sponsored by Innovate UK, led by Agri-EPI and involving UK companies SoilEssentials and RDS, with autonomous and measurement systems contribution from University of Strathclyde. The Chinese partner organisations were NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC).

Following the successful delivery of this inaugural project, Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Group agreed to explore further opportunities, resulting in today’s signing of an agreement at the 4th Tianjin World Intelligence Congress.

Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive Dave Ross said:

“We are honoured to be taking China SmartFarm to the next level by working with the Tianjin Food Group to deliver this important project. China is the world’s

largest producer and consumer of pork and technology and to support better productivity and earlier disease detection has significant potential economic benefits. Agri-EPI is excited to be building relationships with a range of international partners, in China – as well as New Zealand and Paraguay – in delivering SmartFarm projects.”

Committee Secretary and Chairman of Tiajin Food Group Zhang Yong said:

“Agri-EPI Centre is an important part of UK Research and Innovation. It has the world’s leading level in precision agriculture, the application of engineering technology in the entire agricultural industry chain, and the application of agricultural robots. With the continuous development of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other intelligent technologies, agriculture has entered the era of intelligence. Precision feeding, precise management, real-time disease monitoring, and automatic environmental adjustment are all improving the level of agricultural production. At this critical historical opportunity, we hope to co-operate sincerely with the British side, make full use of their respective advantages, jointly develop and demonstrate the promotion of smart agricultural technology, and contribute to the progress of global agricultural technology.”

Alasdair Hamilton, Head of the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy, Beijing said:

“Partnerships in agricultural technologies that support sustainable, environmentally friendly farming is a priority area for science and innovation cooperation between the UK and China. The production of sustainable food with a low carbon footprint is a global necessity. It is therefore a pleasure to see that the MOU between Agri-EPI and the Tianjin Food Company will deepen cooperation in data driven technologies that will improve how we farm and produce nutritious food.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead said:

“I am delighted that this SmartFarm 1.5 collaboration agreement has been signed today. It marks the next step for both countries working together under our prestigious Flagship Challenge to address the global challenges facing the agriculture and food sectors. This follows on from SmartFarm 1.0 an initiative that formed a key output of the UK China Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy’s Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge, and which was a direct result of an earlier MoU signed between CRTDC and Innovate UK in November 2016.”

The new SmartFarm 1.5 project builds on a long history of UK-China co-operation in agricultural research and innovation. The relationship was enhanced in 2017 with the signing of the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy. SmartFarm is a core part of one of the strategy’s major deliverables, the Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge.

Food security and increasing farmers’ income remain a primary importance in China’s agriculture and rural policies. Technology plays a key role in the government’s plan to achieve this, with more investment being directed at deploying large agri-tech research programmes and innovation systems.

China’s approach to agricultural innovation overlaps many of the UK’s priorities including those set out in the Industrial Strategy.

On June 30, join Agri-EPI Centre, in partnership with 8 Hours Ahead, for a webinar exploring agri-tech opportunities in China. For more and to register, visit: www.agri-epicentre.com/land-and-grow-the-agri-tech-china-opportunity.

For further information, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 0131 239 7030, 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

Things to consider when recruiting in AgriTech

Sam Clayton, Managing Director and Recruiter at AgRecruit shares his views

Running an AgriTech specific recruitment business means that I spend my time working with companies in the AgriFood domain when it comes to recruiting for roles that are non-traditional for the sector. This sees me working on roles in Software Engineering, AI & Robotics, Data and various Engineering disciplines, as well as commercially oriented roles focused on a tech service.

For start-ups, or perhaps more established entities delving into the tech market for the first time, recruitment can mean stepping outside of the Agri world and into a wild-west where you’ll be fighting tooth and nail for the in-demand talent you need, against companies across the likes of Banking, Retail, Energy, Healthcare and any other sector you can think of.

This post focuses on elements that need consideration before you even dip your toe into the water and start engaging with candidates. Some may seem obvious, but hopefully there’ll be one or two you hadn’t thought of which will help you on your way…

Does what you’re looking for exist?

You may have 3-4 business needs that require addressing, varying from Sales through to Software Development – but, if you’re expecting one miracle worker to solve all of these, you might have to think again. With the odd exception, generally people will specialise in one discipline; so you need to decide which of these is the most pressing, or work out if you can recruit for more than one post.

How challenging is the role to fill?

You’ve decided that your requirements are feasible and it’s all systems go. Will it be straightforward though? Software Engineers and Data Scientists, for example, are established role types – but are still notoriously hard to find and attract. Are you looking for a skillset that is abundantly available, or is this a highly specialist role that could prove challenging?

Can you make life easier for yourself?

If, based on the above point, you’ve deduced that this could be challenging, can you take measures to open up the pool of viable candidates? Some flexibility on aspects such as remote working or the role requirements (could elements be learned on the job?) can significantly facilitate your journey.

What do you have to offer?

What is standout or unique about you and your proposition that will be enough to not only convince somebody that the upheaval of changing jobs is worthwhile, but also that you should be their first choice versus the other parties vying for their attention? How are you making your ‘USPs’ (Unique Selling Points) apparent to candidates?

Do you have an interview & selection plan?

What type of interview(s) do you want to carry out and across how many stages? Are all decision makers agreed on what is needed and reading from the same hymn-sheet? Will your process give people a chance? Of course, the barrier for entry can’t be set too low… but, on the other hand, a process that is overly arduous or drawn out may result in great candidates being ruled out for minor imperfections or becoming disengaged.

Do you have the time?

You doubtless have other tasks and responsibilities that require attention; do you have the time to make this a priority right now? Can you review CVs in good time? Do you have time to vet candidates on the basics (e.g. salary expectations, are they serious about looking or just ‘window shopping’, etc) before committing to interview? Are you and all other decisions makers available to move through the interview process at sufficient rapidity?

Will you need help?

If you’ve exhausted your own network and your job ad isn’t yielding results, you may need to enlist help and look at going down the Recruitment Agency route. It will need to be a sufficiently attractive proposition for an agency to invest time & resources into. Surprisingly to many, the fee % you’re willing to pay is not the most important thing here; experienced Recruiters are more likely to prioritise the prospect of a healthy working relationship and partnership. To aid this, consider whether you’d be happy to work with one agency exclusively, or will there likely be further assignments to come should they deliver for you?

All the above points could lead to a blog post on their own, but hopefully this is enough to help make your life easier and start to maximise your chances of success. We are passionate about building further relationships in the AgriTech space and lending a helping hand where possible to growing companies in this domain, so will always be happy to provide advice and guidance for free on the topics mentioned here. Happy hunting!

Contact Sam Clayton at AgRecruit for help on anything covered in this post, or any other recruitment related enquiries:
(+44) 01908 035950
sam.clayton@agrecruit-ltd.com

Wyoming Interactive, digitalisation and agriculture

Enabling smart decisions

Wyoming Interactive is a digital consultancy providing data services, software engineering and user experience design to medical, veterinary, agri-tech and life science organisations.

Launched in 2008, Wyoming have built long-term relationships and a solid reputation for seamless end-to-end digital solutions amongst both US and UK clients over the last 12 years.

Wyoming help producers, breeders and veterinarians achieve high impact outcomes through smarter use of data and digital.

Digitalisation can reduce costs, increase revenues and build value-added services and Wyoming have been heavily involved in delivering these benefits to clients in Europe and North America. Much of their work in the agri-tech sector is to help organisations digitalise traditionally farming processes, such as data collection, through the use of smartphone apps, for example. Connecting new data sources, such as those based on GPS, weather, soil, herd health, crop health, etc. is a relatively new but rapidly increasing need and progressive users are seeing benefits accrue.

Wyoming incorporate these digital data sources into smart tools and power visual dashboards (which can support mobility through smartphone apps). Predictive tools can also be built on top of these data sources to move beyond ‘what happened’ to ‘what will happen’. Consequently, farms can enable smart decisions to be made and poor decisions avoided.

Data-driven farming

Agriculture and farming require digital tools to offer new growth potential. However, many producers have technology from different time periods and from different providers. While ‘point solutions’ can be adept at controlling finances, monitoring yield or tracking pesticide use, this does trend towards data silos making it harder to project an integrated view of farm performance. Data management techniques and digital dashboards marshal those various sources, abstracting the interpretation and action away from clunky source systems and into rich reporting and visualisation tools creating a holistic business view.

Allowing for better visibility and management of the wealth of data both livestock and crop farmers produce, will enable them to make data-driven decisions that will optimise yield, boost revenue, minimise expense and predict the best time to plant.

A recent example of Wyoming’s work was with an organisation that helps farmers to manage farm operations. The data generated from the farm is used throughout the food supply chain and with veterinarians. Wyoming helped to make sense of this data, creating customised models and dashboards tailored to the varying needs of different stakeholders.

For more about Wyoming Interactive, visit: www.wyoming-interactive.com.

Agri industry driving R&D

Claiming tax relief

Paul Crooks of CATAX, an Agri-EPI member, explains how those in the agri-tech sector can make a claim for the Research and Development (R&D) tax relief available.

“The demands on farmers and the agri-tech sector, driven by requirements for increasing efficiency, minimising or mitigating environmental threats, reducing energy use, waste management etc are significant and are driving an enormous research and development effort within the industry. However, farmers and the agri-tech sector are missing out on hundreds of thousands of Pounds in unclaimed Research and Development (R&D) tax relief.

“We know not enough farmers and agricultural businesses are coming forward because the numbers reaching Catax’s door are dwarfed by those in other industries such as engineering and manufacturing. As one of the UK’s leading specialist tax companies, that finding is meaningful.”

Areas where R&D is most likely to be found in agriculture include:

  • Development and use of new technologies and processes in farming
  • Reductions in the environmental impact of the sector
  • Use of data and the internet of things to aid crop or animal management
  • Robotics and AI
  • Monitoring, satellite imagery and remote sensing
  • Increasing yield
  • Improving labour productivity through robotics and machines
  • Resource management
  • Biotechnology
  • Drone technology
  • Soil management and smart irrigation.

The project doesn’t have to be successful to qualify and claims can be back-dated two years.

“Many businesses do not realise that much of what they are doing can be categorised as R&D under the government’s rules, making them eligible for the valuable tax relief that was designed to reward and encourage innovation. The HMRC criteria for genuine R&D is whether an appreciable improvement can be shown, addressing a scientific or technological uncertainty.

“Catax worked with a leading UK equipment manufacturer who wanted to develop their own range of manure spreaders and trailers and the technological uncertainty came about in meeting new mechanical, construction and design parameters to produce a new series of equipment which had increased functionality. Our twelve years of experience in specialist tax relief enabled us to identify and, importantly, maximise the qualifying costs in this innovative project and the tax benefit to the engineering business amounted to £30 000.

“Another client wanted to develop an automatic gas purging system in his potato store and a lot of work was carried out in determining the optimum location and frequency of gas sensors which linked to the automatic purging pump. The total tax saving for this business was over £60 000.

“The average tax relief benefit for farmers and agritech businesses we have worked with has amounted to £50,000 – a significant sum which could be reinvested in the business to fuel further innovation and growth. If your business profits from products you hold a patent on, then the Patent Box Tax Relief can also help retain more of those profits in your business.”

Many businesses in receipt of public grants from Innovate etc have been advised that they cannot claim R&D Tax Relief on grant aided projects. This is untrue, although the claim is processed through a different HMRC programme to the normal one available to SME businesses and can amount to a benefit of nearly 10% of the entire R&D project.

As in most disciplines, the results achieved by specialists can differ significantly from that achieved by many generalists and the same principals apply in the field of R&D Tax Relief. Most good R&D tax specialists will work on a commission basis so cost considerations can be dismissed as no fees will apply unless a significant benefit is achieved for your business.

Catax have developed a highly efficient system which maximises your tax benefit but minimises your time involvement while we collect and process the information required.

For more information, visit: www.catax.com.

Unlocking new funding for agri-food innovation

Agri-EPI Centre can help

Agri-EPI is seeking to lend its expertise to businesses in the agri-tech space to help them access the UK Government’s £1.25 billion government coronavirus support package.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the new package this week to protect firms driving innovation in the UK. It includes a £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector. SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans.

Agri-EPI has the expertise to help de-risk both the financial and technical aspects of accessing and utilising grants from the new support package.

Chief Executive Dave Ross explained:

“Agri-EPI works to develop partnerships and provide support to UK businesses seeking to develop, evaluate and market technical and engineering products which support efficiency, profitability and sustainability across the food supply chain. We work closely with academia and science and have a portfolio of publicly-supported facilities and assets which are open for use by our partners.

“With a strong track record of success in supporting businesses of all sizes to successfully access funding and to invest in opportunities, we are primed to offer our expertise to any businesses seeking to access this new UK Government funding and we urge those in the agri-food sector with an interest accessing the funding to contact us so that we can lend our expertise to making it happen.”

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

For further details on the new fund, visit the UK Government’s website.

To discuss collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre, please contact Business Development Director, Lisa Williams.

Events

A3 Scotland Conference

Animal health, agri-tech and aquaculture

Taking place in Edinburgh, Scotland from 21 and 22 April 2021 (dependant on the easing of lockdown restrictions), the A3 Scotland event’s theme is “transition to net zero”.

With innovation, investment and collaboration in animal health, agri-tech and aquaculture a focal point, delegates from industry, investors and policymakers, all looking to discuss strategic partnerships and discover the latest R&D, will be brought together.

Delegates will hear from guest speakers – including Agri-EPI’s CEO, Dave Ross – from across the sectors, who will share their expert advice and will have multiple opportunities to network with others who work in, are involved with or are interested in these key areas.  Additionally, there will be optional pre-and post-conference tours showcasing some of Scotland’s world class A3 facilities and expertise. 

For more information and book your space, please visit: https://bit.ly/A3Scotland.

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